By Catherine Ryan Howard
This book opens with what seems to be a tentative romance between a young man and a young woman, Oliver St. Ledger and Ciara Wyse.
Oliver and Ciara notice each other several days in a row in Dublin City Centre at a Tesco where each is buying lunch.
Noting her NASA tote bag, Oliver strikes up a conversation. He buys her a coffee and they talk. Neither has been in Dublin long. Oliver invites her to a documentary on the Apollo flights. They stop for a drink first. One drink becomes several; conversation leads to attraction, and the two begin a hesitant relationship.
As this novel unfolds, it’s clear that Oliver and Ciara each have secrets and reasons they don’t want to be close enough to another person to be known.
In the background is the growing COVID-19 pandemic. Detective Inspector Leah Riordan orders a coffee and watches a barista “make with gloved hands and theatrical caution as if it wasn’t a cappuccino they were making but a bomb.”
Ciara listens to a press conference with the Irish prime minister, the Taoiseach, in the United States where he had been on a diplomatic mission. “Some of the things the Taoiseach said she’d heard before, many times, but in sci-fi virus thrillers and post-apocalyptic zombie movies, not from the mouth of the leader of her country in a press conference so pressing he had to do it in the predawn dark on the other side of an ocean.”
When one morning as Oliver is leaving her apartment, Ciara’s elderly across-the-hall neighbor cracks open the door and gives them the stink eye, they both realize that once the announced lockdown begins, they won’t be able to see each other without the risk of being reported by the neighbor.
Oliver invites her to move into the apartment that his firm has provided him with.
Fifty-six days later, DI Riordan and her Garda colleagues are called in to investigate a decomposing body in an unlocked apartment that has been thoroughly wiped of finger prints. The cause of death is so unusual, the Garda can’t tell if it was homicide or an accident.
This is a pitch-perfect mystery. As author Catherine Ryan Howard carries the story backward and forward in numbered days, the suspense keeps rising and rising. Hints about Oliver’s and Ciara’s pasts are dropped as subtly as autumn leaves into a stream. She makes it, oh, so easy, to misread the clues.
Nothing about this story is predictable. A highly recommended read.
Howard has a reputation for surprise endings and stories intimately tied to their settings: a cruise ship running from Madrid to the Cote d’Azur (DISTRESS SIGNALS) or a college in Dublin where one among a tight group of friends is murdered as a serial killer terrorizes the college (THE LIAR’S GIRL).
56 DAYS is dazzling in its subtly: Is this a romance or a murder? Was the death an accident or a homicide?
Howard definitely went to the top of my “Must Read More” list.
About the Author: Catherine Ryan Howard (1982 – )
A Cork-born writer of thrillers, Catherine Ryan Howard established her reputation from her debut novel, DISTRESS SIGNALS (2016).
Before she became a writer, she worked in the travel industry as a front desk agent for a hotel at Walt Disney World, Florida, a travel administrator in The Netherlands and a campsite courier in France. She self-published two light-hearted travel novels about her experiences in the industry in Europe and the United States.
Writing, however, has been a nearly life-long obsession. As an older student, she studied English literature at Trinity College in Dublin, taking the first of her second-year exams the day before the launch of DISTRESS SIGNALS.
That first novel was followed by THE LIAR’S GIRL (2018), REWIND (2019), and THE NOTHING MAN (2020).